#7 Notre Dame (4-2) at Syracuse (4-3)
Carrier Dome (Syracuse, NY)
Noon, ET (ESPN3/Watch ESPN)
(Earlier in the week, I sat down with WAER Sports in Syracuse to discuss the game. Check out the audio HERE.)
The phrase, “ships passing in the night” would be an apt description for the inaugural ACC seasons for Syracuse and the #7 Notre Dame lacrosse team.
The 4-2 Irish and the 4-3 Orange have roughly the same record and performance so far on the season, but they couldn't look any more different when you get into the details.
The Orange started the season with a pair of home wins against Siena and Albany (in Overtime) and the preseason-ACC favorites looked every bit the part of a team that was going to contend in the spring.
Then they hosted and got doubled-up by Maryland to the tune of 16-8. A visit to Charlottesville a week later didn't help matters, as Virginia scored out their way to a 17-12 win.
At 2-2 on the year and already essentially out of contention for an ACC regular-season title, they turned things around with a pair of impressive victories over St. Johns and at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The Hopkins game featured Syracuse at its best, with a solid team performance on national television.
Then came Duke last week.
In Durham, the Orange got pummeled. The Blue Devils scored 8 goals in the first quarter and 5 in the second and led 13-4 at the half. Duke would go on to win 21-7.
So now the Irish, on short rest, travel to Syracuse to take on the Orange in the Carrier Dome.
On paper, the Orange have a lot of strengths. Their attack unit is quite good, led by Dylan Donahue (18g, 9a) and Kevin Rice (10g, 15a) and Randy Staats (11g, 8a), though Staats didn't play last week and Derek Maltz (7g, 5a) started in his place. This is a pretty strong attack unit and I expect O’Hara and Buglione to mark Donahue and Rice to try and stop the scoring. Donahue’s efficiency (64%) ranks in the top-end in the nation so Irish defensive coach Gerry Byrne will have his work cut out for him.
The midfield situation looks similar to the Irish’s most recent opponent in Ohio State. While the talent is better, Orange Coach John Desko is still figuring out his lines. His first line is pretty set. Scott Loy (7g, 6a) and Hakeem Lecky (6g, 0a) lead the midline along with Henry Schoonmaker (9g, 1a), though like Staats at attack, Schoonmaker didn’t see any action last weekend against Duke. Behind them, Desko has diddled with personnel pairings with Billy Ward (8g, 2a) being the next-man in. This is a solid unit that is far from the Orange’s weakness, though they can be prone to commit penalties as Mike Messina has committed 6 penalties for 3.5 minutes on the season.
Where Syracuse begins to have problems is at defense. Brandon Mullins and Sean Young are the top 2, but Desko has gone with a platoon of Bobby Tait, Matt Harris, Jay McDermott and Ryan Palasek to try and find a pairing that works. The larger issues aren't with the pairings though. Syracuse’s defense is penalty-prone. Mullins and Young have combined for 10 penalties on the season and the backups have all seen time in the penalty box on the season.
Desko uses a two-goalie system. Dominic Lamolinara has every game for the Orange and has a middling 49% save percentage and gives up 14 goals per game. Remember. He only plays a half usually. Bobby Wardwell plays the second half and is a tad better, saving 54% of his shots and giving up about 13 goals. So, not a great duo of netminders but far from terrible.
The reason why Syracuse has lost their games so far this season really begins and ends with the faceoff X. There really is no nice way to put it. Syracuse’s FOGO’s are struggling badly. Chris Daddio has taken the most faceoffs on the season and is a paltry 42% from the circle, including 1-7 last week against Duke. Desko tried using a new FOGO against Duke, Joe DeMarco, who was just as ineffective. In all, six different Orange FOGOs have tried their luck from the Faceoff X this season: Chris Daddio (42.6%), Austin Wentworth (31.2%), Mike Iacono (30%), Drew Jenkins (25%), Peter Macartney (.083%...yes) and Joe DeMarco (27.3%). The numbers speak for themselves.
To win, the Irish will have to take advantage of the expected dominance at the Faceoff X. Notre Dame will get some 4-on-3 fast breaks from O’Connor and will need to focus on execution. Kavanagh should have a strong outing again if things go right. Notre Dame won’t get the benefit of depth as Syracuse runs a lot of players. The Irish are also coming off a short week, meaning that Syracuse will be more rested in addition to having the comfort of playing at home. However, Notre Dame should be able to take advantage of the Orange netminders. At the same time, Notre Dame’s defense needs to neutralize Donahue and Rice and keep sticks on Lecky and Loy.
This has all the makings of a dominating win for the Irish, but with the intangibles that Syracuse enjoys (home-field, longer rest), it might be closer than people think. Syracuse needs this conference win to have any hope of qualifying for the ACC tournament and possibly even the NCAA's. At 0-3 in conference, I expect them to play with a sense of urgency. We'll see if the Irish are up to the challenge.